A typical night on the town turned tense in Platteville late Saturday. At approximately 12:47 a.m. on Feb. 19, two Platteville police officers made a traffic contact for excessive acceleration on a vehicle owned by Joseph A. Baliff, 23, Lancaster. The stop was made at the intersection of Mineral Street and Third Street, in front of the Platteville Police Department.
The officers were on foot patrol in the downtown area and were able to wave over the vehicle.
During the contact, Baliff who was a passenger in the vehicle, displayed a firearm, later described as a short-barreled pistol-grip shotgun, in a manner which was threatening to the officers. Sensing a threat, the officers drew their weapons and instructed the two occupants to keep their hands in the air and to exit the vehicle. No additional use of force was necessary. "That is very alarming to officers," said Doug McKinley, Platteville police chief. "I was very pleased with their response."
The occupants of the vehicle were detained to facilitate further investigation of the incident. During a search of the vehicle, two suspicious devices were found. A perimeter of 50-100 feet was established around the vehicle and the Dane County Sheriff's Department Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit was requested to come to the scene. The Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit rendered both devices safe.
The scene was not cleared until about 6 a.m. on Feb. 19.
According to McKinley, business owners in the area as well as the patrons, were very cooperative. "One (business owner) shut down his business and got people out. That helped resolve things a lot quicker," he said, noting it was a fairly busy Saturday night in the downtown area.
Given the amount of people in the area and the suspicious nature of the devices, the situation could have had a much worse outcome. "It could have been a much more difficult situation," said McKinley.
The matter remains under investigation and it will be referred to the Grant County District Attorney's Office for consideration of applicable charges against Baliff.
The devices are currently being analyzed by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab. Results of those tests may not be available for several weeks.
McKinley noted the city will be responsible for the cost of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. Depending on the outcome of any court case against Baliff, he may be responsible for paying restitution. The cost of the service is not known at this point.
The Platteville Police Department was assisted during this incident by the Grant County Sheriff's Department, the Dane County Sheriff's Department, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Police Department and the Platteville Public Works Department.